I mentioned these late-1970’s seafaring novels last week — they could be considered the “other” Peter Benchley classics. Neither “The Deep” nor “The Island” had nearly the broad-based cultural impact of “Jaws,” of course. But they were still pretty damned good.
I got my hands on the paperbacks in the 1980’s, after my Dad left them lying around the house. (It’s funny how much of my reading material I inherited from my father or older brother during my formative years. I wonder how many kids grew up like that and were thus influenced.) Both books leaned toward being horror-thrillers, as “Jaws” did.
I saw the the 1980 film adaptation of “The Island” on broadcast television when I was in early gradeschool, and it freaked me the hell out. It’s actually a pretty bizarre tale about a colony of throwbacks who murder modern boatgoers in the manner of 18th Century pirates. (Check out the trailer below.) It stars none other than Michael Caine, and also an Australian actress Angela Punch MacGregor. (If that isn’t a badass Australian name for a lady, I don’t know what is.)
I read the original book when I was older — in some ways, it was even freakier. There were some weird sexual undercurrents and potty humor that weren’t even necessary for the plot; Benchley was a little more out there than you might gather from the more traditional thriller that “Jaws” was.
“The Deep” was a scuba diving thriller; the book and the 1977 movie filled my adolescent head with ambitions of becoming a professional treasure-hunter. I remember devoting a lot of thought around age 13 or so to trying to figure out if that was a realistic career aspiration. (I supposed it all depended on what I found.) There is a moray eel in the movie, and it is unpleasant. It prompted me to adopt the neurotic habit of bringing a knife along on the summer snorkeling expeditions behind my friend Brian’s house.
Interestingly enough, Wikipedia informs me that Benchley returned to writing books in the late 1980’s; his last two novels in the early 1990’s sound pretty damn cool. They’re both seafaring monster stories — “The Beast” and “White Shark.” The latter even selects its victims from my native Long Island, New York. Maybe I’ll pick those up this summer.